Features January 2017 Issue

Study Supports Heart Benefits of Diet Rich in Whole Grains

Cleveland Clinic researchers find that even among overweight and obese individuals, whole grains can help cut cardiovascular disease risks.

A diet that features whole grains may help cut your odds of developing cardiovascular disease. That’s according to a Cleveland Clinic study supported by the Nestle Research Center. The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, focused on 33 overweight and obese adults under the age of 50. However, researchers also believe that older adults and anyone else can benefit from a diet rich in whole grains.

whole grains

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A diet rich in whole grains, seeds and nuts is part of a heart-healthy eating plan.

“Heart disease and strokes are a leading cause of death in the United States,” notes the study’s principal investigator John Kirwan, PhD, director of the Metabolic Translational Research Center at Cleveland Clinic. “This research shows that eating whole grains reduces the risk of heart disease.”

Blood Pressure Benefits

In the study, two similar groups of overweight adults were put on approximately the same diets for 10 weeks. The only difference was that the grains in one group were all whole grains, while the other group of study participants ate refined grains. People in both groups also lost weight following the specially designed eating plan. At the end of the study, the whole-grain group had a three-fold improvement in their diastolic blood pressure. Diastolic is the bottom number on a blood pressure reading, and it corresponds to the pressure in your arteries when your heart is at rest in between heartbeats.

“The diastolic blood pressure reduction was due to the diet and not the weight loss because the 33 participants lost the same weight in both groups of the study,” Dr. Kirwan says.

The researchers say the reduced risk equates to lowering the risk of death from heart disease by one-third and the risk of death from stroke by two-fifths.

Know Your Grains

As the name suggests, whole grains contain the entire grain: bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains have been ground to make flour. In the process, they lose the bran and germ. As a result, refined grains also lose some important nutrients, such as B vitamins, dietary fiber, and iron. You may have seen the term “enriched flour.” That means the food manufacturers have put back some iron and B vitamins into the refined flour. But refined grains still lack fiber.

Fiber is associated with better cholesterol and blood pressure control. Fiber also makes you feel fuller longer, so you’re less likely to overeat—a key strategy in controlling your weight and improving your cardiovascular health.

Some examples of whole grains include whole wheat, oats/oatmeal, brown rice, wild rice, rye, buckwheat, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, quinoa and sorghum. Whenever possible, look for whole-grain breads, pastas and other products and avoid refined grains.

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